Oklahoma football: Sterling Shepard's biggest fan isn't crazy about his new role in the return game

Scary memories from Oct. 30, 1988 — when she watched her husband Derrick knocked unconscious during a kick return — are why Cheri Shepard is uneasy about her son Sterling taking over as Oklahoma’s punt returner.
by Jason Kersey Published: September 1, 2014


photo - Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard (3) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Louisiana Tech cornerback Bryson Abraham (15) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard (3) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Louisiana Tech cornerback Bryson Abraham (15) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

“I thought, ‘Oh my poor child!’” Cheri recalled. “I rushed over and yelled, ‘I love you Sterling!’

“He was mortified.”

Cheri can laugh about that moment now, but that doesn’t make the idea of another concussion any less frightening.

She said she was surprisingly calm the three times her son lined up to return punts against Louisiana Tech. Shepard only fielded two of them, averaging 17.5 yards per return.

He’d been eager to return punts since arriving on campus in 2012, but had to wait his turn behind veterans Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders.

“It was great,” Sterling said of returning punts Saturday. “Got some really good blocks. It’s exciting being back there again.

“Just got some of the first-game jitters out, and now I'm ready to roll.”

Still, when her son backs up deep Saturday morning the first time Tulsa lines up to punt, Cheri probably will have a few jitters.

Derrick Shepard played three more NFL seasons after sustaining the concussion that night in Houston, returning 57 more punts and 34 more kickoffs before retiring.

The former OU standout died of a heart attack at the age of 35 on Aug. 4, 1999. Fifteen years later, Sterling Shepard wears his dad’s Oklahoma jersey No. 3.

Against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Sterling even passed his dad and now ranks 22nd on Oklahoma’s career receiving yards list.

And now, Sterling is also returning punts like his old man, even if it makes mom a little uncomfortable.

“She remembers seeing my dad get kinda clobbered back there, but I'm not worried about it,” Sterling said. “That's the name of the game. You're gonna get hit.”

by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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